Info: General Growing Information

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                    GROWING BANANAS

General Information: Bananas (genus Musa) have long been cultivated in warm, humid regions of the world. Many people inaccurately call banana plants “trees”; they are not trees at all. In fact, bananas are actually the largest members of the herb family. What is often referred to as a trunk is correctly known as a pseudostem and is comprised of many layers of leaves wrapped around one another in a spiral arrangement. In many areas of the south, the banana is not held in high regard. However, if one cares for them properly, reliable harvests of wonderful fruit are obtainable in the sub-tropical areas of the south.

Planting: Edible bananas are generally planted out from what is known as a sucker or a pup, an exact, miniature replica of the parent plant. If you bought yours from a nursery, it is most likely a sucker that has been severed from the parent at some point and should be well rooted by the time of purchase. Plant your new plant at the same level it was growing in the pot into well-amended soil in an area that receives at least half a day of direct sun. Bananas can grow in a surprising amount of shade; however, fruit production will be lower. Members of the genus Musa love lots of water; however, not standing water, which may rot the roots. In general, try to make sure that your banana plant gets at least one inch of water per week; two inches would be even better.

Fertilizing: In general, banana plants are heavy feeders. They can be given either synthetic fertilizers or organic fertilizers. If using synthetic fertilizers, be careful not to over-apply and burn the leaves. Bananas appreciate an application of fertilizer once per month throughout the growing season. Do not fertilize once the weather begins to cool.

Care: For the most part, bananas are carefree plants with very few pest problems. One may occasionally experience damage from leaf rollers or the occasional grasshopper but damage is usually minimal not requiring any applications of pesticides. The main thing one will need to do is tidy up a bit occasionally by trimming off any dead leaves once they have turned completely yellow.

Cold Tolerance: There are several edible varieties listed below that do well in Zone 9. For the most part, no major protection is needed most winters to ensure simple survival. However, if one wants to increase the likelihood of fruiting, several things should be done. First of all, once the first frost kills back the leaves just trim the leaves back to the pseudostem. Do not cut the entire pseudostem back! Keeping as much height on the pseudostem as possible is one of the keys to getting fruit the next year. If possible, construct a cage approximately 4’ tall and place it around the pseudostem. Fill the cage with dry leaves and wrap with a tarp. This will help to insulate the pseudostem from any freezing temperatures. If one can get his or her banana’s pseudostem through the winter intact, the likelihood of getting a flower and then fruit goes up dramatically. If the pseudostem is killed to the ground, the chances of fruiting are slim for that year.

Cold Tolerant Varieties: Following are some varieties or cultivars that have proven to stand up to our winter temperatures most of the time in Zone 9 and provide fruit. Similar results can be expected in areas with a similar climate.

‘Orinoco’- Probably the most common banana grown all along the Gulf Coast. Reliably produces medium-sized fruits (4”-6”) that can either be cooked when green or allowed to fully ripen and eaten out of hand. ‘Ice Cream’ – Reportedly cold hardy in our area, with one of the best-tasting fruits. Dessert type. Skin of fruit is a bluish color. ‘California Gold’ – A recent addition to the cold hardy bananas. Supposed to be delicious. ‘Raja Puri’ – A variety originally from India. Stays somewhat short and stocky. Reportedly very easy to fruit. ‘Manzano’ and ‘Saba’ are reported to be cold hardy here as well.

Other cultivars, which may prove cold hardy, include ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Dwarf Orinoco’, and ‘Dwarf Cavendish’. Keep in mind though, that added protection will likely be needed as I’ve seen ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ reduced to mush in the winter. Many of these can be brought indoors in the winter or put in a greenhouse. “Dwarf” is also a relative term, with many so-called dwarf bananas still growing 8-10’ tall.

Harvest: You’ll know that flowering is near when you see the “flag” leaf. The flag leaf is normally a much smaller leaf that precedes the emergence of the flower bud. Most edible bananas have a maroon-colored bud that will appear at the top of the plant. In a few days, the bud will drop over and as the bracts (the maroon part of the flower bud) will peel back to reveal the flowers and you’ll begin to see little bananas forming. The bananas form from the female flowers. As long as you continue to see new fruit forming, allow the bud to remain on the plant. However, eventually, you’ll notice that no more fruit are developing and that you are only getting flowers that fall off. These are the male flowers and the bud should now be cut off just below the last fruit so that the plant will put its energy into developing the fruit rather than wasting it on flowers. Be careful when you cut the bud off as banana sap will permanently stain your clothing brown! From this point, continue to water and feed your banana plant well so that the fruit will fill out. In general, it takes around 4 months from the time you see the first fruit to be able to harvest it. If cold weather threatens and your bananas are still green, you can cut the entire stalk off and bring it inside to ripen as long as the fruit are filled out well.

The Next Generation: All bananas are monocarpic, meaning that they flower and fruit once and then die. The good news is that they perpetuate themselves by putting out pups or suckers. Once you have harvested your fruit, cut the entire pseudostem that fruited down to the ground. The pups that have come up around the main plant during the growing season will carry on the next generation for you. In general, allow only two or three pups to remain during the growing season, as any more may impede fruit production. To remove a pup, allow it to first grow to around 18-24" first to ensure that it has enough roots of it's own. Next, take a sharp spade, and slice diagonally between the pup and the mother plant trying to get some of the corm from the mother plant. *On the main page, click on the Photo Gallery, then on Banana Diagrams for a nice picture of how to do this. If the pup comes out with good roots you can immediately replant it elsewhere in your garden, or pot it up to grow more, share with a friend, etc. Keep it watered well and it will take off in no time.

Ornamental Varieties: Care for ornamental varieties is basically the same as for the edible types. Some however, have smaller pseudostems, rendering them more susceptible to cold damage. Many of them are root hardy at least, with some varieties reported to survive into Zone 7, such as Musa velutina, Musa mannii, and Musa laterita. The Chinese Yellow Banana, Musella lasiocarpa, is reported to survive into Zones 5 and 6, though it will probably need considerable protection. The Japanese Fiber Banana, Musa basjoo is even more cold hardy. Don't overlook the related genus Ensete, which contains some awesome ornamentals. Ensete maurelii and E. ventricosum are both spectacular bananas from Africa.

Added by Bananaman88